I know in de Administratione Suger writes that a lavish church inspires its worshippers to recognize god and perhaps sees anagogic meaning as the more lavish the church=the more uplifting the services? St Thomas Aquinas doesn't really get specific about anagogic interpretation, just saying "it is at the level in which the glory of God is revealed." I know he was part of the Dominican Order, a mendicant group, so perhaps he was less materialistic than Suget in his interpretation? Furthermore, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 118 it says (paraphrasing) anagogy speaks to our destiny, meaning whenever there is a reference to the eternal future of the world (after Jesus is resurrected?) it is an anagogic interpretation. Did Abbot Suget or St Thomas Aquinas subscribe to this idea? Thank you in advance, an interested scholar with a paper to write

  • I wrote a lengthy answer, of which became accidentally deleted-only 1 paragraph survived-which in my extreme anguish I deleted. After I recover from my extreme chagrin, I may attempt this again.
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 8:06
  • Simple answer; 2 different men facing 2 different challenges. Both supported 'anagogic' interpretation-and both quote Dionysius. Sugar was uplifting the soul in anticipation of eternity, sparing no expense and ultimately incurring the scorn of the Albegenses for his lavish extremes, which favored the monarchy. The Dominicans, of which Aquinas was one, were originally founded to counter the Albegensian heresy, which saw the world and the soul as corrupt, and unable to appropriate grace except through a severe penitential lifestyle. (cont.)
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 8:25
  • (cont.) Theirs was a "works righteousness" agenda and they were Dualistic; they viewed the world as created by the evil one. They rebelled against the lavish expenditures of the church and only esteemed those who were as austere as they. Thus the Dominicans were a mendicant order, living austerely and surviving by begging as itinerant preachers. They mostly failed in their attempts to persuade the Albegenses. But they were instrumental in teaching new converts the doctrinal truths of Christianity, and Aquinas's Summa Theologica was instrumental in developing Systematic Theology.
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 8:45
  • Although Innocent III's impatience with their progress in dispelling Albegensianism led to one of the most horrific chapters in Christianity-The Inquisition, Aquinas's approach from natural law was a basis for resolving the Dualistic tendencies as well as answer questions such as "just wars", "nature of God", 'mortal and venial sin". Aquinas's focus was more on humanity reconciling itself to God's will in this present life, versus a transcendent triumphalism which sees the church basking in the glory of God for all eternity.
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 9:20
  • 4404 My mistake- AlbIgensianism(not "e")
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 28, 2014 at 9:58

1 Answer 1


Definition of Terms

Anagogic Sense:

The anagogical sense (Greek: anagoge, "leading"). We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland: thus the Church on earth is a sign of the heavenly Jerusalem.

A medieval couplet summarizes the significance of the four senses:

The Letter speaks of deeds; Allegory to faith; The Moral how to act; Anagogy our destiny.(taken from Catechism of the Catholic Church 117c-118)

Abbot Sugar's view on anagogic sense:

Thus sometimes when, because of my delight in the beauty of the house of God, the multicolor loveliness of the gems has called me away from external cares, and worthy meditation, transporting me from material to immaterial things, has persuaded me to examine the diversity of holy virtues, then I seem to see myself existing on some level, as it were, beyond our earthly one, neither completely in the slime of earth nor completely in the purity of heaven. By the gift of God I can be transported in an anagogical manner from this inferior level to that superior one.(taken from Book of Suger Abbot of St. Denis on What Was Done During his Administrations-Chapt. XXXII)

St. Thomas Aquinas said,

That signification whereby things signified by words have themselves also a signification is called the spiritual sense, which is based on the literal, and presupposes it. Now this spiritual sense has a threefold division.
This spiritual sense is itself divided in a threefold way. Paul says, "The Old Law is a figure of the New Law" (Heb. 7:19), and the New Law is, as Dionysius says, "a figure of the glory to come." Moreover, in the New Law the things that are done are signs of what we ourselves should do.

Thus, insofar as things in the Old Law signify things in the New Law, we have the allegorical sense. Insofar as things done by Christ or by those who prefigure Christ are signs of what we ourselves should do, we have the moral sense. Insofar as they signify what is involved in eternal glory, we have the anagogical sense.(from Summa Theologiae Q.1:10)

The Men and Their Times

Abbot Suger lived from 1081-1151 and became an oblate to the Monastery of St. Denis(the Patron Saint of France) at the age of 10. He finished his studies, was sent to other monasteries, and then was appointed to the court of Pope Galasius II and Calixtus II, until he moved back to be the Abbot of St. Denis in 1127. Since the Basilica of St. Denis was where the kings of France were buried, it had an enormous significance and it's Abbot was one of the most important men in France.

Abbot Suger was the friend and confidant of both Louis VI and Louis VII. He was very much a presence in the king's court, effectively serving as Regent in the kings absence.

He was a primary historian for the period, and he is most noted for his re-innovation of the Basilica of St. Denis, the repository of the French kings and one that served for a time as a place of coronation. He spared no expense in it's reconstruction, and it's considered the first "Gothic" cathedral. As a result, it elevated the position of king over rival lords and was instrumental in strengthening the king's hand. He wrote extensively on it's reconstruction, which was previously quoted from.(source Wikipedia)

St. Thomas Aquinas came later in history (1225-1274) and was born in Italy, where after rigorous objections(and kidnapping) by his parents, he became a Dominican priest. The Dominicans were founded by a Spanish priest as a mendicant order whose primary occupation was to preach, and attempt to persuade the Cathars(or Albigensians) to return to the faith. He studied in Paris, then taught in Cologne, and back in Paris again as Regent Master of Theology. He wrote one of his seminal works, Summa contra Gentiles, there.

But it wasn't until he was transferred to Rome, at Santa Sabina, an intermediate school, where he wrote Summa Theologiae, which was conceived with the thought of taking students from the beginnings and build them up in the truths of their faith. He was then sent back to Paris, which was more difficult as he faced radical Aristotlelianism, which he refuted, however the Bishop of Paris attributed to Thomas a number of dissenting views, since Thomas argued from Natural Law, a constant theme of Aristotle. Nevertheless, he was cleared of the charges and his books are required reading at Catholic seminaries.

What occurred between the time of these two men was the Cathar(or Albigensian) Heresy. This heresy was essentially Manichean, and purported Dualism; one of a benevolent God who created the 'spirit' and the other 'god' who created the world which was seen as evil. This heresy migrated from Bulgaria, called (Bogomilan), and took hold in Southern France and Northern Italy. At it's height it was said to control over a thousand towns. They truly were the subject of the admonition of the Apostle Paul,(2 Tim. 4:1)

Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron;> 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.

Since the Cathars believed all matter was evil, every activity, including eating, marriage, and any secular pursuit was considered sinful. They preferred concubinage to marriage. They could be 'believers' throughout their life, but in order to be 'bishops' or receive 'salvation' they had to go through a ceremony called "consolamentum" where they would renounce all ties to the flesh, and then be 'perfect'. What is important for our discussion is that where Abbot Suger "transcends" earthly considerations with lavish and ornate constructions, crucifixes, stained glass, doors, and other earthly decorations, the Cathars despised them, and the government that uses them to exalt their status. In fact, they were antithetical to any anagogic sense-the more austere, the more acceptable.

Into this conflict was St. Thomas Aquinas thrust into, 1st as a Dominican it was his job to instruct the faithful and contend with the heresies, the chief one being Catharism. His main avenue of approach was moral law, from which he combined Aristotle's natural law with revelation from the churches teachings. He would then lead the faithful through a series of questions concerning good and evil, conscience, sin, the requirements of God's moral law, and the person and ministry of Christ, along with the church's teaching on mercy and forgiveness. It wasn't that he didn't support anagogic sense(see quote), it just wasn't his primary occupation, given the time and place he found himself in church history.(Sources Wikipedia, Catholic Encyclopedia)

In summary, I would like to offer an amusing footnote, which describes St. Thomas Aquinas and the times he lived in. He was invited to a dinner with King Louis IX(St. Louis) and after Louis attempting to make conversation with this fat, contemplative friar and not getting very far, he proceeded to entertain his other guests with a toast,

"Vanity should be avoided; but every man should dress well, in the manner of his rank, that his wife may the more easily love him."
And then suddenly the goblets leapt and rattled on the board and the great table shook, for the friar had brought down his huge fist like a club of stone, with a crash that startled everyone like an explosion; and had cried out in a strong voice, but like a man in the grip of a dream, "And that will settle the Manichees!"
(Chesterton on St. Thomas Aquinas-Meditation on the Manichees)

The 'anagogic sense'(of Abbot Suger) dresses well, and lifts the hearts of the souls towards Heaven. But it is the self-denial and mortification, combined with the true understanding of God and His Ways, that will settle the heretics of St. Thomas Aquinas.

  • @user4404 I was going to include Pseudo-Dionysius the Areogapite, which both Suger and Aquinas quoted; it would have made for a much more lengthier response-but it may have touched on some keypoints which will help in in your paper. It would have also proved Aquinas did use an anagogic sense interpretation.
    – Tau
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 9:58
  • Wow, thank you so much for the lengthy, thoughtful response. This is so incredibly helpful for me. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    – user4404
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 11:29
  • @user4404 also keep in mind that in addition to marking this as accepted, you can upvote the answer as 'helpful' (as I have, good stuff user2479).
    – Dan
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 14:38

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